Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity




An image of the working paper.
December 1, 2021

Understanding Education Policy Preferences: Survey Experiments with Policymakers in 35 Developing Countries

Foreign aid donors and international organizations supporting education in developing countries have increasingly coalesced around a policy agenda prioritizing foundational learning, measured by test scores in primary school, based on a diagnosis of deficient school quality, and a growing body of empirical evidence about effective interventions to improve quality. We survey over 900 senior government officials working on education in 35 low- and middle-income countries to gauge their alignment with this agenda.

An image of the working paper.
October 19, 2021

Girls’ Education at Scale

Many educational interventions boost outcomes for girls in settings where girls face educational disadvantages, but which of those interventions are proven to function effectively at large scale? In contrast to earlier reviews, this review focuses on large-scale programs and policies—those that reach at least 10,000 students—and on final school outcomes such as completion and student learning rather than intermediate school outcomes such as enrollment and attendance.

Cover of working paper 581
May 12, 2021

Do High-Stakes Exams Promote Consistent Educational Standards?

Each year over two million secondary-school students across English-speaking West Africa sit coordinated exams, with the explicit goal of maintaining consistent educational standards across schools and over time. We find that scores across math items drawn from different exam years—when taken by an identical group of students on the same day—closely track fluctuations in Ghana’s national pass rates over time, absent any role for cheating or changes in real performance.

May 4, 2021

Should Governments and Donors Prioritize Investments in Foundational Literacy and Numeracy?

Students around the world lack foundational literacy and numeracy skills at striking rates. This essay examines the potential channels by which FLN investments and skills—which most systems teach in the early grades of primary school—may impact later schooling and subsequent life outcomes and the existing evidence for each channel. We find suggestive evidence for widening trajectories in school between students who master FLN skills in early grades and those who do not, although other factors may also explain the widening gaps.

Cover of the note Education Technology for Effective Teachers
February 16, 2021

Education Technology for Effective Teachers

Education systems around the world are investing in technology to help teachers be more effective. In some cases, the results are exciting. In others, the impact of technology falls short of expectations or remains unevaluated. This note lays out four principles for investing in technology for effective teachers and six aspects of teaching where technology can boost teacher performance, together with examples of tested, promising, and cautionary experiences with teacher technologies.

Cover of Working Paper 558
October 23, 2020

How to Improve Education Outcomes Most Efficiently? A Comparison of 150 Interventions Using the New Learning-Adjusted Years of Schooling Metric

Limited resources mean that policymakers must make tough choices about which investments to make to improve education. Although hundreds of education interventions have been rigorously evaluated, making comparisons between the results is challenging. This paper proposes using learning-adjusted years of schooling (LAYS)—which combines access and quality and compares gains to an absolute, cross-country standard—as a new metric for reporting gains from education interventions.

Working Paper 550 cover
September 15, 2020

A Rosetta Stone for Human Capital

How can we accurately measure the global distribution of skills when people in different countries take different tests? We develop a new methodology to non-parametrically link scores from distinct populations. By administering an exam combining items from different assessments to 2,300 primary students in India, we estimate conversion functions among four of the world’s largest standardized tests spanning 80 countries.

Cover of working paper 546
September 2, 2020

Teacher Labor Markets in Developing Countries

The types of workers recruited into teaching and their allocation across classrooms can greatly influence a country’s stock of human capital. This paper considers how markets and non-market institutions determine the quantity, wages, skills, and spatial distribution of teachers in developing countries.

Cover of working paper 545
August 27, 2020

How Big Are Effect Sizes in International Education Studies?

In recent years, a growing literature has measured the impact of education interventions in low- and middle-income countries on both access and learning outcomes. But interpretation of those effect sizes as large or small tends to rely on benchmarks developed by a psychologist in the United States in the 1960s. In this paper, we demonstrate the distribution of standardized effect sizes on learning and access from hundreds of studies from low- and middle-income countries.

Cover of working paper 542
August 19, 2020

Education in Africa: What Are We Learning?

Countries across Africa continue to face major challenges in education. In this review, we examine 142 recent empirical studies (from 2014 onward) on how to increase access to and improve the quality of education across the continent, specifically examining how these studies update previous research findings.

Cover of working paper 536
July 10, 2020

Trade Liberalization and Chinese Students in US Higher Education

We highlight a lesser known consequence of China’s growth and integration into the world economy in relation to the United States: the rise of services trade. We demonstrate that the US’s trade deficit in goods cycle back as a surplus in exports of education services. Focusing on China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, we show that Chinese cities more exposed to this trade liberalization episode sent more students to US universities.

Cover of working paper 534 (revised)
May 28, 2020

Practical Lessons for Phone-Based Assessments of Learning

In this article, we draw on our pilot testing of phone-based assessments in Botswana, along with the existing literature on oral testing of reading and mathematics, to propose a series of preliminary practical lessons to guide researchers and service providers as they try phone-based learning assessments. We provide preliminary evidence that phone-based assessments can accurately capture basic numeracy skills.